BATMAN: The Dark Knight Recalled Part II

by Jake on November 20, 2012

(Continued from Part I)


Batman and RobinYes, you know the one. Adam West, Burt Ward. The colors, the cliffhangers, the celebrity villains. This show has cemented itself so firmly in the zeitgeist that people STILL think of superheroes as “Pow! BAM! Thwack!” and all that. Great show. Started off as two episodes a week, with a cliffhanger ending each time, just like the old serials. They even made a motion picture, which gave us “shark-repellant Batspray” and deserves applause for that alone. The series lasted three seasons – it really ran out of steam after awhile.

And then, there was a long, dark time for the Dynamic Duo. Because the TV series had been a comedy, superheroes were now considered just that: childish and farcical. The fact that superhero comics (and comics in general) were evolving into a masterful art form during the 1970′s was ignored by the TV and movie folks. Sure, kids still got Batman cartoons and toys and the like, but the character was locked into the campy Adam West mold forever, it seemed.

Then, the first superhero returned to light the way.

1978′s ‘Superman: the Movie’ was a big-budget, serious take on the character, an attempt to treat the idea of Superman as mythology and Americana. At the same time, television had rediscovered the comics, with shows and telefilms based on the Hulk, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Dr. Strange and Captain America.

Challenge of the SuperheroesSo what to do? Why, ‘Challenge of the Superheroes’, of course!

Notable for having the first live-action portrayals of DC heroes and villains such as Green Lantern, the Flash, Hawkman, the Huntress, Black Canary, Solomon Grundy – I can’t do this. Long story short, two TV specials, Adam West and Burt Ward back as Batman and Robin. These are awful, even as comedies. I remember; I was there. I saw them. Of course, I was four or five years old, so I didn’t realize how very bad they were.

That was it for Batman.

Or was it?

In the 1980′s, Batman in comics had been taken back to his roots: a terrifying, vengeful figure of darkness, determined to eradicate crime. This new/old concept of the character soon had Hollywood’s attention and, after many years, audiences got a look at a Batman for modern times.

Keaton BatmanTim Burton’s 1989 ‘Batman’ positioned the Caped Crusader in a new, dark, film noir setting. The Batsuit became black armor and Bruce Wayne was just as disturbed as the villains he faced. This version of Batman is still pretty much the popular perception of the character.

Michael Keaton as Batman surprised critics and audiences alike, while Jack Nicholson gave his best Jack Nicholson impression as the Joker. This movie is still great fun to watch.

There were also some sequels.

Oh, all right. 1992′s ‘Batman Returns’ tweaked the concept a bit – it was much more of a weird, Tim Burton movie that happened to have Batman in it. Then Joel Schumacher stepped in for ‘Batman Forever’ (which sounds like a prom theme to me: Batman FOREVER!), which replaced Keaton with Val Kilmer, introduced Robin and, for some reason, angered fanboys for all time by adding nipples to the Batsuit. I have never seen the big deal about this and I still don’t. You have nipples. I have nipples. It’s not like they were painted a different color or could shoot darts or anything.

But I digress.

Clooney BatmanThen came ‘Batman & Robin’. Now in THIS case, the fans really have a lot to complain about! Both star George Clooney AND Joel Schumacher have accepted the blame for this train wreck. I myself think it was the studio’s fault more than anything; Warner Brothers killed the Bat-goose to get at the golden Bat-eggs.

And I mean to tell you, that goose was COOKED!

I have to mention ‘Batman: the Animated Series’ (1992), probably the best adaptation of Batman ever done in any format. Kevin Conroy is STILL the voice of Batman, 20 years later.

Batman The Animated SeriesBut cartoons aside, it looked like WB had no hope for their Bat-franchise. This Bat-hiatus lasted several years, and then Christopher Nolan gave us ‘Batman Begins’.

I’m not gonna go into detail about these films, because everyone knows them. I’ll just say that as with previous efforts, these built on everything that had come before while adding some new twists. The idea is basically ‘Batman in the real world’. That is, no fantasy or supernatural elements, that sort of thing. And it worked! Heath Ledger’s Joker alone redefined that character for the 21st Century, while Christian Bale was a Bruce Wayne audiences really got to know. His Batman was a tad gruff-sounding, though.

None of these movies or shows lost money and, while some are better than others, they all added something to the Batman mythology. Batcave? The first serial. Rocket-powered car? 60′s TV show. Grappling hook gun? ’89 movie. Black rubber suit? Ditto. Each interpretation defined the character for that particular era, and each left a mark on the Bat that continues to this day.

So whatever is next for the Batman, audiences will be there. Just like the Caped Crusader himself, when the Bat-Signal pops up, we respond.


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